Work is what we do to feed, clothe and shelter ourselves and our loved ones. Work is that effort required to achieve survival and safety. Throughout human history and even today in some rural areas, work is as basic as finding water and food. The various inventions around doing work, providing water, food and shelter, have enabled mankind to flourish on this planet and the ‘technology’ of work becomes more meaningful given this context.
This is why Industrie 4.0 is somewhat of a misnomer, even if one defines the context only from the first industrial revolution. How we do work is a function of the power source that we use, combined with the technology available to control that power. In early human civilizations, agrarian societies were human powered or made use of domesticate animals to help with the work of food production. Horses or oxen were used to plow fields, turn mill stones, lift water from wells and even used to help with building large structures. Civilization was built on the backs of men and beasts.
It is estimated that the windmills of Nashtifan, Iran date back to the 1500’s. Amazing as it may seem, they have been using vertical axis wind power to grind wheat into flour for centuries. And those old structures that survive today are still working. (see video link)
The Industrial Revolution started with a mechanical revolution in 1589 with the first knitting frame for making socks. A hand knit one piece sock was made by a machine with unique mechanisms that operate without human skill. Simply by providing rotary input power, the machine’s internal workings imitate the work of human knitting with the advantage of higher productivity. The success of being able to produce socks more quickly by creating machines that make socks began a wave of mechanical innovations used to manufacture socks, hosiery, linens and bulk textiles. The textile industry was born primarily using water and human powered means.
The notion that, with sufficient insight and ingenuity, a machine could be created that turned raw fibers into yarn, wove fabric, or made articles of clothing without the aid of skilled workers was nothing short of amazing. The machines were tended by humans, but the machine made its product automatically, without the direct intervention of humans. The new notion of automatic production attracted a lot of creative individuals to seek new solutions to supplying the needs of people and potentially earn some measure of wealth.
James Watt’s improvement of the Newcomen steam engine made steam power vastly more efficient and began replacing horses and water as means of motive power. The scalability of steam made possible larger textile mills without the need for location near a river. Watt’s Patent issued in 1775.
So the Industrial Revolution from a mechanical perspective had been under way for nearly 200 years before the application of steam as a means of motive power expanded it’s potential. For this reason, it is important to bear in mind the distinction between the Industrial Revolution as a being the result of steam power liberating industry from the need for rivers and water power, versus the Industrial Revolution being the 200 year evolution of mechanical engineering applied to manufacturing of various products.